Monday, July 05, 2010

North Country Trail journal -- June 19, 2010


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Its been almost 24 hours since I’ve seen anybody, and as I sit to start writing, I feel a few sprinkles on my leg. It is overcast and cool today, a striking contrast to yesterday’s warmth, sunshine and humidity. Yesterday, I drank four liters of water and picked 40 dead ticks off my socks. Today, I’m not drinking as much and the ticks are less active.

Had a restless night, my first alone. I was awakened once by the territorial snorting of a deer or elk. It stopped after about 20 minutes.

There was only supposed to be a 10 percent chance of rain, but here it is… [a few drops smudge the page] But just as quickly it stops. Right after I put on my rain jacket and pack cover. The weather doesn’t know what to do. Dark clouds are rimmed by blue sky. The ferns, ticks, and I don’t mind.

Speaking of those bloodsuckers, I have declared some rules. Any tick found attached to me is sentenced to death. They don’t go easy, but die with a satisfying crunch. Any tick crawling on me outdoors is flicked away. But any tick attached or crawling on me in the tent is sentenced to death by nail clipper. The other morning I had a tidy little pile of tick halves to sweep out of the tent.

I camped last night at the Paul Schoch camp site. It’s nicely arranged on a wide mound. Down the hill is a piped water source. Another trail leads to an open air privy. I think it’s new. I made the inaugural dump. This is a trip for first be-soilings. A few days ago I broke in a port-a-pottie on some private property off Hwy. M [yes, I trespassed. Nobody was around.] There was nothing but blue water in the thing before I arrived.

I tried to eat an entire can of Spam with dinner last night, but had to sacrifice about 1/3 of it to the fire. It smelled like a really good barbecue before it charred out. I half expected a bear to show up with a paper plate in its paw.

Two foods I always take backpacking, but never eat at home are Spam and Snickers bars. Another trail food tradition is to eat a big steak dinner at the end of a trip.

“Here comes the rain again / raining on my head like a memory / raining in my heart like a new emotion.” -- the Eurhythmics

I am now at Erick Lake airing out my feet and summoning the willpower to make it another five miles to Lake Ruth, in the Chequamegon National Forest. I don’t know what time it is and it is cloudy. I guess if I don’t make it by nightfall I will get some water and find a flat spot. The last few miles have been up and down through rolling, glaciated terrain. I walked through an ugly clearcut after reading a note on a tree from the Bayfield County forestry department explaining the value of a timber harvest. Another timber harvest occurred here at Erick Lake, and there are many critical and defensive comments in the register book. One of the designated camp sites here is ruined, and the privy is totally out in the open. Whoops!

My take on timber harvesting: Fine. Cut away your little patches of land to make money. The north woods, but for a few ancient remnants, was deforested over 100 years ago. Every town up here has a history connected with logging. There’s the obligatory pictures of log-jammed rivers and proud Scandinavians wearing long-sleeved wool shirts standing around huge saws. And logging is still a big business and necessary to the economy up here. But is it too much to ask for a 100-foot buffer zone around a National Scenic Trail? I wonder what the woods around Erick Lake looked like before they were denuded.

I give credit to the Brule-St. Croix chapter of the North Country Trail. The trail is well-maintained and marked. After a rude introduction a few days ago, the NCT is easy to follow. I will miss the trail registers and established trailside camp sites after I enter the national forest. The registers are in metal boxes on a post near trail heads and camp sites. I signed every one I came across.

The last people I saw on the trail was a young couple from Duluth who were leaving the Highland Hall camp site yesterday afternoon. I’m surprised. It’s a Saturday. This is a beautiful trail. Where is everybody? Anybody? I guess they’re scared away by the bugs.

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